Youth Crisis Looms in North Caucasus

Posted in Russia | 30-Nov-06 | Author: Nabi Abdullaev| Source: Moscow Times

A rise in the number of young people coupled with a lack of opportunity in the North Caucasus could impede long-term economic development and threaten stability in the region, a World Bank study shows.

The 88-page study, "Youth in the Northern Caucasus: From Risk to Opportunity," was released Wednesday. It warns authorities to take action in the cash-strapped region now or face "a whole lost generation," said Gloria La Cava, one of the report's authors.

"There is a risk that untapped entrepreneurial resources of the local youth can eventually find their way into activities that are detrimental to the security in the region," La Cava said.

Young, disadvantaged men traditionally make up the bulk of the foot soldiers in gangs and guerrilla armies. Ambitious youngsters lacking viable career paths sometimes apply their leadership skills to the world of crime and terror.

The $12.4 million spent from 2001 to 2005 by federal officials on helping youth in the North Caucasus was a "marginal sum for a country as large and diverse" as Russia, the report states.

The Education and Science Ministry, which the World Bank views as a major partner in its youth-related programs in the North Caucasus, declined to comment on the report Wednesday.

The bribes that many high schools and higher-education institutes expect from students make education prohibitively expensive, according to the World Bank's findings.

In Dagestan, for instance, the bribe required to pass a high school or university exam runs from $70 to $175, the report said, and can reach as high as $1,000 at a prestigious law school.

Girls have less hope of going to school than do boys, the report found.

Abduragim Sagidov, a Dagestani student, has big goals but little hope he will be able to attain them. The 13-year-old wants to study the ins and outs of the oil and gas business at a university and then move to Siberia to work for an energy giant.

But he doubts he will be able to afford it. "I don't know anyone around me who hasn't bribed his way into or through a university," Sagidov said.

Many children in the North Caucasus are effectively barred from attending even kindergarten, said Marianna Markova of the World Food Program's Moscow office.

"This programs children from the very beginning to help around home instead of getting prepared for the bigger world," she said.

The report notes that a lack of family connections is the No. 1 obstacle to finding a job. Poor skills and a lack of experience ranked No. 2.

While an average of one in 10 young people aged 15-24 is neither studying nor working in Russia, that figure jumps to seven in 10 in Ingushetia.

In the relatively prosperous Stavropol region, one in five young people is neither attending school nor holding down a job.

Youngsters also tend to receive inadequate education, and they are not getting important information about smoking, drug abuse and HIV/AIDS, the report finds.

Teachers cited in the report lamented that they ran the risk of being reprimanded if they so much as touched upon the issue of sex in class.

More than 600 young people from 12 to 27 were interviewed for the report, the first ever of this kind, in six North Caucasus regions. An additional 60 people who spend considerable time with young people -- parents, teachers and religious leaders, for example -- were also interviewed.

The report on the North Caucasus' surfeit of young people comes at the same time that Russian authorities are looking for more of them. President Vladimir Putin has warned that Russia's population loss of 700,000 yearly could have serious, long-term consequences.

In 2004, the median age of the Russian population was 37. In Ingushetia and Chechnya, it was a little higher than 22; in Dagestan, it was 25.